As we hurtle towards the mid-point of an academic year like no other, I’ve watched the weeks rush past in one continuous, locked-down blur of uncertainty. The anticipatory anxieties of learners and educators alike have amalgamated to form a low-hanging smog over the term, trying its best to cloud our triumphs.
But there have been triumphs – and we need to make sure we celebrate them.
Let us celebrate our collective upskilling in digital technology, for a start. Let us rejoice in the opportunities to refresh our professional practice and collaborate with fellow educators. Let us reflect on the exciting new possibilities around accessibility and inclusion that these circumstances have presented to us. Let us revel in the mastery of differentiating hunger from cabin fever.
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Oh yes, teacher friends, this year our achievements extend far further than the field of teaching and learning. We have courageously navigated the treacherous terrain of technology-enhanced learning clad in slippers and yoga pants. We have battled the trolls of the worldwide web clutching nothing but a home-made coffee and a visualiser. We have equipped ourselves with blue light filter glasses and gazed steadily into the very soul of poor internet connection.
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I have witnessed with admiration my further education colleagues across the country pioneering fantastically creative solutions to the unexpected hazards we’ve encountered in the realm of working from home.
We have developed an eclectic array of new skills and rekindled talents long forgotten. It’s been well over a decade since I worked my last bar shift, so what a revelation to discover that I can still shake up a delightful cosmopolitan. And in my own kitchen, no less!
Delighted at this feat of retrieval, I’ve endeavoured to minimise the spacing between practice moving forwards. For the sake of reliable research, I also conducted a control study by means of massed practice over the Christmas holiday, and have concluded that spacing of around a week, ideally on a Friday evening, is most impactful and less of a literal headache.
Speaking of headaches, in a bid to spend some purposeful time away from the screen each day, I have put serious thought into lunch-time running. Such consideration has always resulted in an elevated heart rate, anxious sweating and a deep appreciation of the indoors, so I consider it to be a resounding success.
This reluctance to venture into the great wintery outdoors ultimately led to another unexpected hazard of home working. This ominous threat arrived while I sipped coffee by the window, watching the rain cascade over lionhearted runners and living my best schadenfreude fantasy.
It arrived in my driveway in the hands of my postman, who appeared pained, as though carrying a great weight. I peered at him curiously as he haltingly made his way up the drive, stooped over the leaden object he bore in both hands. With shaking arms, he wrestled the dense anomaly through our letterbox and the walls of my house reverberated with horror as it crashed to the ground. It was our heating bill. And yet we are problem solvers in further education. We acknowledge need and construct solutions.
And this, dear friends, is why so many of us have taken up knitting during lockdown. There are few comforts cosier than a double-knit jumper or a chunky yarn blanket, and many of us are discovering that the insulating properties of wool work just as well when thrown together in an amateur, haphazard way.
Reflecting on brilliance and ridiculousness
This blend of challenge and celebration has been a continual theme in my working-from-home experience. Through these jestful reflections, I hope not to diminish the difficulties you have faced during this period, but to prompt celebrations of your own innovative solutions, no matter how small.
From our very first week of online teaching, when I could be found wandering the house with my laptop searching for the perfect blend of acceptable wi-fi and appropriate background, to my discovery of additional mobile phone storage after overloading the internal memory – not with teaching resources, but with a profusion of pictures of my pets who cannot wait for me to return to work – both my ignorance and my innovation have startled me in the most extraordinary and mundane ways.
I hope one day very soon we can be together safely and laugh as we reflect on how simultaneously brilliant and ridiculous each of us can be. Until then, be safe, reach out if the challenges begin to outweigh the celebrations and thank your place of work for their continued central heating.
Laura Kayes is an advanced practitioner and performing arts lecturer across Luminate Education Group's FE and HE provision